Skip to content

Train Story: Mystery Meat

He waits on the platform with a dozen others as the train pulls in. The apparent comfort of his backwards baseball cap, board shorts, and ubiquitous black tech company T-shirt belies his anxiety. As he waits, he fidgets and regularly looks over each shoulder, and then from side to side, as if expecting an attack from any direction. The train stops and as soon as the doors open, he dashed aboard, shouldering aside a few startled commuters.

Once in the train, he hurtles into a seat by the window, and watches the platform intensely. Only when the doors close and we pull away, does he seem to finally let out the breath he had been holding. He is carrying a small lunch container; one of those plastic boxes with small straps for handles. He puts it on his lap, holding it tightly.

If he is being chased for what he’s got for lunch today, the mind fairly reels at the possibilities.


Fear and Voting

I don’t often write about being Jewish. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever have before. I thought I would now in case some of you gentle readers would like context for the fear that has made itself very present in my life right now.

Through the science of genetics and DNA and things I don’t pretend to understand fully, I am very Jewish. Very. According to the estimate I received, I’m ethincally between 89% and 99% European Jewish. The 10 point difference is that the first estimate of 89% has been updated to 99%, but I still need to read more about that to understand the change.

The point being is that, regardless of practicing religion, being Jewish is an ethnicity. Perhaps you all knew that. But if not, it’s important, at least it is for me. I am not a religious person in the sense of organization and scripture and ritual. I attribute much of this to my parents. Alan and Frieda moved across the country, from New York to California, in the 1950’s in part to escape the religious expectations of their families. As a kid, we sometimes had a menorah and sometimes a Christmas tree. Sometimes both. We talked about other high holidays but very rarely. My parents’ beliefs were grounded in intellectual discourse, love for their children, doing one’s best, telling stories, and weaponized guilt.

But we were/are Jewish. And despite the lack of religion, there is always a deep connection to our ancestry and history. My ancestors were slaughtered in the pogroms of Russia and forced into the Pale of Settlement. Some found their way to the Iberian Peninsula and were subsequently threatened and killed and pushed out of Spain and Portugal. And thousands upon millions were murdered by the Nazis and their allies. My paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother were immigrants. Their respective spouses were first generation Americans. This is not ancient history. These are my GRANDPARENTS. I never got to know any of them. I have a vague memory of my grandmothers from when I was very small, but all four of them were gone by the time I was 9. And we lived on the other side of the country and, as I mentioned, my parents left and, in some harsh and sad ways, didn’t look back.

I became keenly aware of what it meant to be seen as “other” in terms of being Jewish in grade school. One of my closest friends had just started attending bible school and, while we were playing together one sparkling Northern California afternoon, he suddenly shouted at me, “You Jews killed Jesus!” And he was really mad. At me. Our friendship changed that day and was never the same.

Not many years later, I attended a private boys school for 7th grade rather than join my friends at the local middle school. Most of the students who attended the school came there from the Catholic boys school up the road. I was the only boy in my grade who was not Catholic. And there was just one boy in 8th grade who was also Jewish. And it was pointed out regularly. I was bullied daily. The kid with the locker above mine punched me every day. Another would wait for me to ride into the schoolyard every morning and on several occasions, pull my bike out from under me. Now some of this was because I was a skinny, nerdy, weird kid but there were plenty of times in that year that I heard, “it’s that Jew kid,” or “he’s Jewish so I’m sure he can’t play sports”, or the like.

I was thankful to be back in public school from 8th grade onward and my high school was more diverse (well, honestly, the diversity bar was quite low at that point), but I was lucky to have a remarkable and pleasant high school experience.

In my freshman year of college, I encountered people from the Deep South for the first time. It was not my classmates that commented on my ethnicity; it was their parents. “Well, hi y’all! You must be our daughter’s little Jewish friend!”, one mother exclaimed.

The stories continued in various ways. Someone where I worked in Chicago would say “Did you jew them down?”, when asking about my negotiating with a vendor.

As I got older, I became better at correcting and pushing back. And eventually, partly I think because of where we live and who I choose to have in my life (something that is easier to do later in life, it seems), much of this passed into memory. It would emerge as I would do ancestry research or watch a movie or documentary, but I have been very fortunate, especially as compared to many others.

Which brings us to now. In this country. With this president. As other writers have pointed out, the rage against Jews in this country has always been there, it is not new. But it has not always been given the platform that exists now. You can hear it, constantly. When members of the Republican Party refer to “them”, or “International bankers”, or “Hollywood”, they mean Jews. All of us. And yes, I am calling that party out directly, but I also know the hatred exists throughout and across party lines. But this administration and those who support it or won’t do everything possible to check it and hold it accountable, are the reason I am afraid. Deeply. One historian noted that the similarities between what is happening in the US and what happened in pre-war Germany are there, but that we are well past the start of the nazi’s rise to power. The racism fomented by the president and those who support him are already at the stage where a minor tip of power and we will be rounded up and made to disappear.

I wrote this in the hopes that if even just one person in the range of my voice just didn’t understand the gravity of the situation and was thinking their vote doesn’t matter, and they will now vote for a democrat to replace the horrifying situation we are in, then it’s worth it. Do not sit this out. Do not think it doesn’t affect you or that you don’t have a reason to be involved.

I hope we will pass through this time and I won’t be afraid for me, for my husband, and our lives any longer. But that won’t happen without your help.

Train Story: Learning to Human

We are unusual animals. With sentience, one would think that we would be acutely aware of ourselves and our surroundings. If I look at our cats, for example, there is rarely a moment their ears aren’t swiveling to alert them to some sound or keeping a vigilant eye on us, just in case we move towards the cabinet with the treats. Since humans became the dominant species on the planet – a phrase I write with all the eye-rolling irony I can muster – we have mostly lost that awareness.

Case in point: Oblivious Guy.

It doesn’t help that he wears massive headphones. Lack of aural input notwithstanding, he appears unaware that there are other people around him. He blocks aisles while he fiddles with a backpack the size of a small island nation. Dropping into a seat with a train shaking thud, he immediately “man spreads”; mashing his knees and elbows into the unlucky rider next to him. He commits one of the most heinous of transit crimes and puts his crap on the vacant seat opposite. Finally, someone makes him move it by repeatedly speaking to him loudly, gesturing, and, eventually, requiring a tap on his shoulder to get him to pay attention. And as the sparkling turd of a topper, he tosses his stuff onto the very useful luggage rack overhead, and a mini-umbrella drops through the grating and lands on a passenger. He merely reaches for it, without the slightest acknowledgment or apology.

He is the Prince of Pillocks; the Raj of Rude.

Don’t be this guy. Selfishness is killing the planet, the other creatures we share it with, and our very humanity. Think about others. Care about them. On the train. In the office. In life.

Here endeth the lesson.

Train Story: Change Takes Practice

There is something very wrong about the man. His head doesn’t seem to move in quite the right way. Just standing still, it looks like he’s about to topple over. Adding to the oddness, his clothes don’t fit him at all. He’s not a big guy, but every stitch he’s wearing seems to be three sizes too small. I fear for the buttons on his shirt and the seams on his pants; they are fit to explode, quite literally.

As he stands to leave, a rotund gentleman, barking orders into a phone, crashes into him and grunts what might be an apology. The odd man says “Oh that’s okay!”, when clearly it isn’t. As soon as the words escape his lips, he gasps suddenly and he reaches up and gingerly touches his nose. He pats it. Several times. And satisfied that nothing is amiss, he gives a little snort of glee, and, with all the grace of a flopping, gangly Great Dane puppy, he departs the train.

Pinocchio might very well be a real boy these days, but he desperately needs physical therapy and a new tailor.

Train Story: Something Old, Something New

With the move to a new city comes a change in commute. But this time, the change is more than shifting from the ole 54 to the “C” line to the 120. In some ways, a bus is a bus is a bus. And despite the sameness of being on a bus, the variety of story inspiration was usually there (until the world went to hell in a hand-basket, just about 619 days ago, and my brain couldn’t deal. Correction: can’t deal.)

And now, I’m on a train. And it’s different. And the same. It is more predictable and far more comfortable that a bus. It has free wifi and scenery to look at. The telltale clickety-clack sound is soothing as we zoom along, without the starts and stops and vagaries of automobile traffic. But there are people and they are, as before, in transit. And they are as interesting, silly, cunning, and daft as always.

And so the stories continue.